Author Topic: Chapter 19  (Read 1870 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 19
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:00:13 AM »
Chapter 19

The battery factory overlooking the alley wasn't in use this late at night, but it was guarded. Nick had made a call to the guard's superior, getting him transferred off-site for a few hours. Apparently the Veil had a lot of pull with companies world-wide. Either that or he'd impersonated some law enforcement or military agency to get it done. It was most likely the latter, given how secretive the Veil had to be.

Petra climbed the stairs up to the second level with the others, not at all glad to be back here. The first time around, she had been filled with curiosity and adventuresome excitement, as she and Didi had followed Darius. Now all she could think about was the metaphorical weight on her shoulders. Darius wasn't even gone yet, and she felt it already. When he did.. die, she'd probably feel it even more.

Andy was in the lead, armed and sweeping for danger. She had two of her security people along, one with her in front, and the other taking up the rear. No one was expecting any trouble, but Andy didn't believe in taking unnecessary risks. Nick and Chuck were flanking Petra in the middle, flashlights out. They hadn't used any of the building's lighting for secrecy's sake, and also because manifesting fades were easier to see in the darkness than in a well-lit room.

Petra couldn't help but be reminded of Didi blacking out the place as well, the first time she was here. She would be here in spirit, if not in body.

When they reached the large room, Andy had her people spread out and check the rest of the floor. Chuck examined the exposed power line near the window, which was apparently where Despair would be making her appearance. Nick tapped her shoulder though, and beckoned her away from the window.

They were still a little exploratory in their relationship, and Petra was wondering if he wanted some time alone with her, but apparently this was all business. "I got a call from our guy in Timber Creek today. Your friend is apparently doing much better. According to her file, she's responding well to the meds, and might be ready for release in a few weeks."

Petra wasn't surprised, but she did try to give the impression of relief in the darkness. "That's good to hear."

"Is it?" Nick went on flatly. "I was told she had two visitors since she got there. The first was her mother, the day after she arrived. The second was another woman two days after that. She had tried to kill herself and was on suicide watch, so the second woman wasn't allowed to see her, but she did give the name Petra to the receptionist." His tone got even flatter, if possible. "Then, miraculously, Miss Halstaff started getting better. Should I state the obvious part out loud?"

Petra glanced over at Chuck, who wasn't looking their way. "I was going to tell you after this meeting. I didn't want to distract you, given how important this might be!" She kept her voice low.

"I can't believe you told her!" He whispered furiously in her direction. "You know how important it is to keep the secret- these rules exist for a reason! If there's one rule you don't break, it's that one."

"She tried to kill herself, Nick. She'd found a way around the suicide watch, and would have tried again. It was either tell her, or let her die! And even if she hadn't found a way, that's no way to live. I broke the rules and I'll accept whatever punishment that calls for, but I don't regret helping my friend."

He growled. "But the punishment won't all be on you, Petra! This has happened before. Sometimes Veil operatives feel guilty keeping their work secret from friends or loved ones. Sometimes they talk in their sleep and invite questions. The last time was forty years ago, before I joined up. The agent was punished, but so was the person he told!"

Petra hadn't expected that, and felt a knot form in her stomach. "What will happen to Didi?" She asked as calmly as she could manage.

"I don't know. Darius has always dealt with this on a case-by-case basis. Early magicians working for the Veil tried to erase memories, but that never worked out. I know of at least two cases where Darius had to execute the people involved!"

He paused, looking pained. "She's already in a mental health facility, and that's a good thing for her. I have to talk with her and gauge the risk involved. Unless you plan on running out the clock and dealing with it yourself," he added sardonically.

It was clear what he meant. Until Petra was officially in charge of the Veil, Darius and Nick ran things together. When that happened she'd have the final word, and could effectively pardon both herself and Didi. Selfishly, Petra wanted to do that, but what message would it send to the rest of the Veil? "She won't tell anyone. She doesn't even know anything about the Veil! I only described the keys and the fades to her."

Nick only shook his head, and the disappointment in his eyes was like a physical blow to her. "We've got work to do," he said, turning back towards the window.

Andy had completed her sweep and was standing at attention next to the exposed power line. She'd put on rubber shoes, just for protection. Her second-in-command Simon Trent had taken her weapons, and set up the portable EMP generator a few meters away. Chuck joined Petra and Nick as they approached, and frowned at her. "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine," she said dismissively, and nodded to Andy.

"Remember, don't hesitate if she tries to do anything stupid," Andy said, both to Simon and to Petra. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and grabbed the cable with her left hand.

There was no danger of electrocution, not unless she was somehow grounded or touching another cable, but it couldn't have been comfortable for her. Andy bore it well, and then opened her eyes.

She smiled, looking around the room. "It's good to finally see your faces," she said with the self-satisfied tone of a well fed predator. "I feel I've gotten to know you all very well over the past few months. Especially you, Chuck. How is my dear Colin, anyway?"

Chuck's lips tightened, and his hands balled into fists. "Pissed."

Petra put a hand on his shoulder, and he relaxed a bit. "What is it you want, Despair?" She tried to sound fair.

The fade shrugged, looking noncommittal. "Just to have a friendly conversation. To let you know why I've suddenly stepped forward, after staying hidden for so long."

It was very strange. She was speaking with Andy's voice, using her body, but Despair had none of her mannerisms or word choice. It was a different person in there right now! Petra looked over at Simon, who was also monitoring the voice feed, and he nodded. He had detected the same signal on top of Andy's voice that had shown up on Colin's body cam footage.

"Are you the same Despair who orchestrated the Bubonic Plague?" Petra asked. She wanted to get the fade talking, hopefully enough to slip up and reveal some information they could use, but also because she really was curious. This fade was at least different than all the others she'd met so far.

Despair shook her head. "No. As you've probably guessed, that was my brother. I never wanted to be in charge, but now I am by default. I'm sure you know how that feels."

Petra glanced to both her sides. Nick and Chuck both looked angry and indignant, and she could feel some of that herself. "Why did you manipulate the Veil into fracturing? Why cause us so much trouble? The Veil didn't even exist back when your people were killed!"

"I don't blame you for Mortemer's actions," Despair said softly. "I don't even really blame him anymore. I just had to keep the Veil off balance long enough to make contact with the other fades. Once you were selected as the next immortal, I knew they would be upset. Concerned at the very least, and open to my proposal."

"And what proposal did you make to them?"

Despair held up a hand. Her right hand though; her left was still on the cable. From what Darius had said, a fade could transit into a cable instantaneously. She was no fool. If they set off the EMP, she would be on her way well before the blast could hit her.

"I'll get to that in a moment. First, you need to understand where I'm coming from. What we did in 1347 was an atrocity. There is no other word for it. We only started the first of over a dozen plagues, but we were the ones who tipped the first domino. When my brother ordered it, there were some of us who were hesitant, and some who were all for it. We should have stood up against it. If we'd stood up to him together, we could have stopped it! But we didn't. Instead we committed an atrocity.

"But what was done to us was also an atrocity! I'm not trying to defend our actions: there is no defense. But by the same token, you can't defend Mortemer's! He attacked us without warning, and wiped us out in an instant! We were never told not to interfere with the humans, nor to abstain from possession. If he had put those rules in place, we would have obeyed them! If not out of respect for humans, then at least out of fear of reprisal."

She trailed off at that, her face set and angry. Petra glanced at her friends, seeing some surprise and thoughtfulness. "Rage told me that no one knew exactly who had killed the Despair faction, or how. You only found out later, when Darius tried to open negotiations with the fades."

Despair nodded. "And he was mostly right. Mortemer is the first fade to have ever existed. He's more.. energy than person. He created us all, in his home dimension, an unfathomable time ago. After that we spread out to various realms including this one. We were here for so long that we eventually forgot all about him! Then he killed us- his own children- for breaking a rule we didn't even know existed! Parent of the year, that one."

She looked down for a moment, and her voice cracked as she went on. "He didn't just kill my family, though. He absorbed them. Their personalities died, but the energy making up their forms- our forms!- went back into him! He fed on them, like some kind of animal consuming the flesh of its offspring.

"I survived, barely. You've probably guessed how. I had to stay hidden, inside human after human throughout the years. I never enjoyed it. The humans I possessed had no memories of the time I spent inside them. I couldn't risk being alone, either. If one of them died, and no one found the body within a few hours, I would have died as well! Even after you built electrical cables and fiber optics, and I could use them to go anywhere in the world, I still had to end up inside a human body. I could never be free, as my surviving brothers and sisters are."

"Some people might say it's a fitting punishment," Chuck put in. "After all, you did kill twenty-five million people."

Petra gave him a harsh glance, but he didn't seem to notice. And Despair did give a mirthless chuckle. "Maybe it is. But this is bigger than me and my punishment. My brother and I, and hundreds more of us, committed that crime together. It took us weeks of effort to arrange it, to find the sailors and make sure they were infected, and send them off to die on those plague ships. Weeks of us all working in concert. It took effort!

"What Mortemer did took no effort at all, and only a whim and an instant. He killed us in a flash of anger! No one person should have that kind of power. No one should be able to end hundreds- or millions- of lives just with a thought like that."

"I take it that's what you were talking to the other fades about?" Petra said, finally seeing where this was going.

Despair focused on her. "Yes. I've been living in terror for centuries, but they have been almost as afraid. Perhaps they could convince themselves they were safe for a time, but when you were chosen as the next immortal, it brought all those fears back into their minds. We're all dancing at the whim of a madman, Petra. Every time you humans get involved in a world war, or set off an atomic bomb, or start a global pandemic, we get twitchy. He could blame it on us, and finish what he started!"

Despite herself, Petra felt a stab of sympathy. Not for Despair necessarily, but for all the fades here on earth.

Despair smiled again, but this one was satisfied and not predatory. "As of last week, the leaders of the fades have reached a concordance. For the first time in history, we are all agreed on what must be done. Mortemer must give up his power. He must transfer it into others, as he has done with you and Darius, so that he is no longer an existential threat to us."

Wow. That really was something. For the first time ever, fades were issuing an ultimatum to Morty, rather than the other way around? Petra couldn't be sure of it, though. "Are we just supposed to take your word on this?"

"Not at all. Contentment will be along within a day or so to confirm everything I've said to you. You will see our determination then."

"What if Morty refuses?" Nick asked, finally speaking. "You have no power to force him, and no way to stop him."

"That's true," Despair admitted, "but we do have the power to affect his pets. If he refuses to give up his power, fades everywhere will start possessing humans at will. We will use you to kill as many humans as possible. The most likely outcome will be global nuclear devastation, and human extinction. Even if you are willing to give up the Veil's anonymity and warn the world, you could never protect enough people to keep it from happening."

"That's insane!" Petra cut in. "Morty would retaliate, and kill all of you as well!"

"A person is only insane if they're not aware of it. This is the insanity borne of desperation, Petra. We've decided that it's worth risking our lives- everyone's lives, actually- if it means we won't have to live in fear anymore. It's easy for you to live in fear, because your lives are so brief. Ours are endless." She sighed. "We have had this sword suspended over our chests for hundreds of years now. Mortemer will remove it, or we will take hold of it and impale ourselves on it."

That last metaphor was particularly striking to Petra. She had studied the Sword of Damocles in school, but never really understood it until she'd been put in a position of authority. With difficulty, she kept her voice neutral. "If, somehow, we're able to convince Morty to give up his power, what happens then? What's to stop you from going all Black Death on us again?"

Despair shrugged. "The Veil, of course. You have the technology. You can repel us using EMPs and Faraday cages. You can kill us, individually, using electrified blades. But you have no reason for concern, Petra. Thanks to your internet, we have no need to possess humans anymore. And we've moved past the whole 'genocide for fun' thing. The other factions will keep following the rules. I'll follow the rules too, if you can get Mortemer to do one thing for me."

"I'm afraid to ask," Petra said darkly.

"Oh, it's not much, considering everything else. You see when Mortemer absorbed my family, he killed them. They're gone, and nothing can bring them back. That energy is still a part of him, though. He can restore me to my body, making me a 'real boy' again. I would be able to survive without possessing people, and I could start recruiting for a new Despair faction."

That was a disturbing notion, and apparently Chuck felt the same. "You don't really expect any fades to join up, do you? The last time, you ended up being nothing more than a death cult!"

"Why not? Thanks to human stupidity, there's now more than enough despair to go around. Your cultural and religious conflicts, for example. Your gleeful willingness to inflict suffering on others for financial reasons. Your hilarious refusal to do anything about the impending destruction of your ecosystem. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet for despair right now! I anticipate a great many fades will join my cause. I'll play by the rules, though. If you can get Mortemer to restore my body."

Chuck's face flushed, and he opened his mouth to say more, but Petra held up a hand. "We'll.. consider what you've said, Despair. At the very least, we'll tell Morty that you're still kicking. I'm sure he'll find that interesting." She was about to ask Despair to leave Andy's body, when she let go of the power cable.

"Ok," the woman said shakily. "That was weird."

Petra nodded down at Simon, who set off the EMP just to be sure.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:33:58 AM by Daen »